The King in the Window
by Adam Gopnik, appearing at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, Sun Oct 23, 7:30 pm
Adam Gopnik is a witty, wonderful essayist, with a knack for pointing out amusing tidbits about the French. Unfortunately, his first stab at writing fiction lacks any real imaginative scope. The King in the Window is nothing more than a series of clever ideas strung together, completely lacking in depth; ironic, considering that one of the novel's themes is superficiality.
Window's plot is passable enough: the evil King of Mirrors is stealing people's souls, and it's up to the good wraiths who live in windows to save the world. A lonely young American boy, living in Paris, is staring out the window one night when the window wraiths mistake him for their king, and enlist him to fight their battle.
Nothing is more important in a fantasy novel than the creation of a compelling alternate reality. Gopnik, though, gets mired in explanations, of both the world beyond windows and mirrors, and of France itself. I don't believe C.S. Lewis ever actually defined the word "wardrobe," and I was 20 before I figured out what Turkish Delight is. Gopnik, on the other hand, can't shut up about how "devoirs" is French for homework, and pain au chocolat is bread with chocolate in the middle. This effectively sucks the glamour out of the City of Lights, conjuring something more like the Paris of my high school French textbooks, full of multi-cultural teens in windbreakers eating croque monsieur.
With Windows, Gopnik has tried to write an ironic young adult fantasy novel (at one point, a character says that if the story were an allegorical painting, it would be of "Instructed Metaphor defeating Soulless Irony with the help of Comic Irony"). I am an embarrassingly avid reader of young-adult fiction, and part of the reason is because as a genre it's relatively untouched by the intellectual posturing that is so often found in the rest of the lit world. It's the closest I can get to an irony-free realm, and also, sometimes I just want to read about a goddamn wizard. Gopnik should stick to cleverly observing reality, instead of trying to create his own.